Thursday, September 27, 2007


The old coastal town of Rovinj is just across the bay from Venice, which you can tell from its architecture and stonework. Everywhere you turn is another picture-perfect moment--case in point: the photo of Tom and Sandra was taken from the parking lot!


The ancient town of Pula houses the best-preserved Roman coliseum. The one in Rome is bigger and more famous, but is in much worse shape. The Pula arena is almost intact, and one can also go underground to understand better the entry-and-egress system and a behind-the-scenes look at the world of the gladiator. Ken, as you might well imagine, was in hog heaven, since this is the kind of thing about which he teaches daily!


Plitvice is a unique place ecologically, because its calcium deposits form newer and better waterfalls at all times and because of the clear water its natural filters create. We walked around eight miles of the Plitvice waterfall area with Sandra and Tom Sibley on our weekend jaunt through three of Croatia's famous sites. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Croatia is BEAUTIFUL!

I didn't know very much about Croatia before going there a week or so ago--OK, I didn't know pretty much anything about Croatia. But it's a wonderful country, young because it's only been a country for about a decade and old because it has a long, fascinating history, some of which I may get around to writing about in a future entry. But for now, I'm here to tell you that this country is flat-out gorgeous. It has an 800-mile coastline, beautiful vineyards and trees, and gorgeous architecture.

Take your pick--lamb or pork?

'Nuff said.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where We're Staying in Croatia

Of course, you're aching to know where we're staying in Croatia, so I will leave you in suspense no longer! We're in a small, attic apartment above the Institute for Biblical Studies where Ken is teaching. The apartment has 3 bedrooms, a bathroom with non-working shower, a kitchenette, and low overhangs everywhere. It's absolutely perfect for us, because Ken simply walks downstairs to teach class. You're probably thinking the picture of the vertical windows in the roof is where we're staying. WRONG! We're one floor HIGHER than that; our windows are those skylights in the attic! The vertical ones are part of the Institute. The ground floor houses the Church of Christ, and it has a very cool baptistry copied from the one in around 800 A.D. I'll try to remember to take a picture of it later on today.

The Word of the Day: "Hotel"

1644, "public official residence," from Fr. hôtel, from O.Fr. hostel "a lodging," from M.L. hospitale "inn" (see hostel). Modern sense of "an inn of the better sort" is first recorded 1765. Hotelier is a 1905 borrowing of Fr. hôtelier "hotelkeeper."

One can see from the definition above that an hôtel originally meant a big house, often divided up into smaller units or apartments and was not what Hilton or Marriott have in mind. While apartment complexes have been around forever (ancient Rome had its insulae and other civilizations have had communal-yet-separate living quarters), the first official hotel is in Paris, and is pictured here at the Place des Vosges.

End of etymology lesson for the day. You're welcome.

A New Country on My Personal World Map

create your own visited country map
or check our Venice travel guide

I'm sure you're all just dying to see which countries I've visited in my life, so here's a map of them. I was able to add Croatia as of this week! This map tool I used enables me to cheat quite a bit, so it looks like I've visited, for example, everywhere in Russia, and I've only been to St. Petersburg (and environs) and Moscow. Also, it is quite an exaggeration to say I've visited Iceland, when in reality my cousin Lisa and I have only ever washed our hair in a sink in Reykjavik, and Iran, where we landed to refuel one time, and my brother David and I went to the stairs that descend from the plane, telling our mom that we wanted simply to set foot on Iran (at which point we looked down and saw machine guns pointed up at us) and then telling her that we had changed our minds!

Ken could add a number of places to his personal map, including lots of Caribbean islands, Egypt, Israel, and South Africa, but subtracting all of Asia.

We're both looking forward to adding South America to the girls' and our maps when we move to Uruguay for the Spring '08 semester with ACU's Study Abroad program!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's all Napoleon's Fault

So many things that I thought were originally French weren't. One of these is the origins of the cravat, or the tie. Here's one version of the story: when Napoleon inspected his troops, he thought the smartest-looking ones were the ones from Croatia, the ones with the ties; in fact, the word "croata" can be found as the root in a number of languages for tie or cravat. Napoleon thus began to require cravats of all his men. [Pictured: the stained-glass dome is in a shopping area under which one can buy $500 silk ties; also pictured is a dude in traditional Croatian costume wearing the red cravat.] So you can blame Napoleon for those nooses you men like so much....

The Rodin Museum(s)

When you go to Paris or to Philadelphia, please, please, please go to the Rodin Museum(s). We have now been to both, and each was an extremely wonderful experience. When we went to the one in Philly, we were grouped with a tour of blind people who had special permission to touch all the pieces and whose tour guide emphasized the musculature of the statues, etc. As the only seeing people on the tour, the leader didn't want to leave us out, and we too were encouraged to rub our hands on the statues and to experience them that way. That may be my single favorite trip to any museum because of that tactile aspect.

But the Rodin Museum in Paris is fabulous as well, and of course it's housed in a gorgeous "hôtel" (more on that word another time, but you can see it in the picture below, next to the building with the gold dome--that's Napoleon's Invalides, where he's buried, by the way) that Rodin and many other artists actually inhabited. There are so many things to say, but I think I'll let a couple of pictures speak for me, though they fall FAR short of the experience of seeing these works in the round and in their "3-D-ness." (For the record, Ken had a headache, hence the matching pose.)

A Trifling Tale of Trouble Tasting Truffles

This trip, Ken and I were going to eat a fancy-pants meal on the Isle de St. Louis, and I really only had one goal: try my very first truffle, those hundreds-of-dollars-per-pound delicacies famed for growing under the certain trees and one that cannot be cultivated but rather must choose life like some little Republican embryonic 'shroom. But it was not to be; alas, on Friday night, we had snacked too late on all things delicious and French and knew we couldn’t eat a four-course meal; on Saturday night, we were too tired and I had the tummy waggles, only for a brief period of time that occurred during eating-a-fancypants-French-dinner time, meaning late. And on Sunday, by the time we got downtown it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner and we were flying out that night. Rats...

Ah, but all was not lost, because when we flew to Croatia, I learned some truffle facts that are very, very interesting--to me anyway. First, while the "black truffle" of France is supposed to be delicious and runs somewhere around $300/lb., the Croatian white truffle is even more of a delicacy and often runs more than $1000/lb. "But how can I ever afford to eat even one bite?" I whined to Sandra Sibley, the very nice woman who took me around Zagreb on our first full day. She knew a place...

And so we went to a fancy-pants restaurant in Zagreb, Croatia, where we sat out on a terrace on a beautiful day in a beautiful city in a beautiful country and ate a beautiful risotto with white truffles. Wow. My meal cost only 22 kunas, around five dollars. How did it taste? Great, for real, not like people saying they love caviar but they don't, because c'mon, it's fish eggs, and they look like Nemo's siblings. Risotto, the national dish of Croatia, is on many, many menus, and this truffle dish tasted quite a bit like a yummy stroganoff.

So here are some more truffle facts for you (you know you want them):

1. The greatest delicacy for a long period of time was a truffled turkey. "I have wept three times in my life," the composer Rossini admitted. "Once when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic."

2. A single (very large) truffle once sold for 160,000 dollars.

3. Karen has now eaten them, and she liked the dish she ate very much.

Foreign Signs

Shelly sent this list of foreign signs, and I thought you just might like to read a few. I have eliminated a few, as, after all, my mother reads this blog! :)

Cocktail lounge , Norway:

At a Budapest zoo:

Doctor's office, Rome :

Information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner, Japan :

In a Nairobi restaurant:

On the grounds of a Nairobi private school:

In Aamchi Mumbai restaurant:

Hotel , Japan :

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:

Hotel, Zurich :

Advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:

A laundry in Rome :

Tourist agency, Czechoslovakia :

The box of a clockwork toy made in Hong Kong :

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen :

The best!!!! In a Japanese cemetery:

In case our blog looks weird...

In case our blog looks weird, let me explain that I'm posting on Blogger in Croatian, and I'm sure if I could read it, I could find some magic button that says "English" to select, but I can't find such a thing, so I'm winging it based on my fading memory of what the Blogger site looks like. Lest you think I'm exaggerating, here's what I'm looking at--see how you would do in Croatian!!!

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Paris, 14 septembre à 16 septembre 2007

Fermée ou ouverte? Paris is old, founded sometime around when cavemen discovered that bones look like baguettes, but that baguettes taste better. Thus, at any given moment, many buildings and areas are undergoing total renovations and are closed (fermée). For example, this is my 3rd trip to Paris, and I have yet to visit the allegedly-gorgeous Sainte Chapelle; it is closed for renovations, this time only for the three days we were in Paris (I’m not kidding!). Also, we went up to the Musée Picasso, and inexplicably it too was closed. But I’m not sad about these things: I’ll just have to go back to Paris every chance I get…

Additionally, at the risk of making the reader barf when I say the following--a closed door really does mean that sometimes there's an open window nearby. Because we went out of our way to go to the Picasso Museum and because it was closed, we wandered nearby and found the Musee Cognacq-Jay, which gets me to my next harangue, I mean topic.

How much things cost: In life, nothing costs exactly what it should/does in my head; everything costs either WAY too much or WAY too little. For example, the exchange rate in Europe at this time favors only around a dozen people in the world, all of whom have the last name Rowling, Gates, Hilton, or II. For the rest of us, here is some good advice: get out your ATM card when you arrive in Paris and keep it out until you leave. It costs 9 euros for a 1-hour boat ride on the Seine or 11 euros for all day; it costs a mere 6 euros to see the unbelievably great Rodin museum, but it costs 2-and-a-half euros for a teeny-tiny bottle of water there.

But there are things that cost shockingly little as well: we stumbled upon the aforementioned Musee Cognacq-Jay, a museum dedicated to the 18th century in Paris, and it was completely FREE! Ken and I would have loved it, even if it hadn’t had a single Fragonard or Renoir (which it did). The house itself was beautiful, with two courtyards and gardens, a study area, and the cleanest, nicest, free bathrooms in Paris. There are jillions more of these (often free) little, out-of-the-way museums in Paris--or sometimes, they're big, right-there places. The Petit Palais (which is very large, but dwarfed by the HUGE Grand Palais across the street and which is my favorite building in Paris) is COMPLETELY FREE and gorgeous and houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a fantastic collection of old beautiful glass objects (think Tiffany), among other art treasures.

More about prices: I’m shocked that I could get free internet most places on the Metro, but I would have had to pay around $20 every day for that privilege at my overpriced-to-begin-with hotel. My thought is that, not only am I cheap because I have to be because we don't make all that much money, but that it's responsible and even FUN to try to "do Paris" on the cheap: run into the Musee Cognacq-Jay and other places, take a bottle of water and refill it, take the Metro or even better, walk along the Seine. End of harangue...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Karen's Predictions for Book 7

Karen's predictions for the last Harry Potter book:


The rule in our house is, no matter how big the kids have gotten (and they're 15 and 14 now), we read every single word of each Harry Potter book aloud together (OK, just the first read-through; after that anyone can read alone, which is good since Krista has read each book about 4,000,000 times). Katie could read before Kindergarten (because she was motivated by her cousin Zack, who could read even younger than she, so she decided she would simply learn. Krista, who loved to be read to, simply showed no interest in reading for herself. That is until Harry Potter came along. One of my favorite family moments ever was reading aloud the first Harry Potter book before the big broo-ha-ha with our 1st grader and our 2nd grader. We thought it would be a good book, because Ken and I had read a wee tiny review somewhere, but we had no idea it would turn into the phenomenon it became. We were a few chapters in, at the Hut on the Rock, and Hagrid says, "Harry, you're a wizard." There was no turning back for Krista. She MUST be able to read this magnificent tome for herself--and so she learned to read as a first grader, not Little Miss Whatzit or Dick and Jane, but Harry Potter (the first three books only were out at the time). So thank you, Ms. Rowling.

What about this July when the last book comes out? We have a very limited time in which to read the new book cover to cover: Ken will have just returned from teaching in Russia this year when the last book comes out. Katie and I will just return from camping. Then, the girls and we will be back together for one day--ONE DAY!--so we will speak to nobody at all for the whole Saturday after the midnight release because our family must read aloud, aloud, aloud to get it read before we go our different ways: Ken will stay in Abilene the next week, but Katie and Krista will go to Camp and Karen will go to Camp Creek for Karla's 40th birthday scrapbooking extravaganza.] Whew... close call.

I'm always spouting off this or that opinion/prediction about Harry Potter to whoever else is into the books, so for the last book, I have said that I would write down my theories, such as they are:

Horcruxes: the Weasleys' clock, tiara, or Ron's chess set (it was his grandfather's, which means it would have been at Hogwarts around the time Tom Riddle was at school)
Why do I have a Weasley horcrux link at all? It's just a theory, of course, but I'd like to see this ancient, pureblood family--whom the DeathEaters and Lord V. have scorned for so long--to "matter" (in quotations because of course they matter to us, who adore them) in the long run--also, Ms. Rowling has taken care to point out that nobody else has a clock like theirs, Dumbledore commented on it, etc. Besides, that gets us to the Burrow, and we need locations for the events of Book 7. If I'm wrong about the horcruxes (which is likely, since why would the Weasleys have something that used to belong to Lord V.?, I still feel strongly about the Burrow being the location for one of the showdowns (remember the code words Mrs. Weasley hates to say, etc.).

One of the items in the following list will be a horcrux from the Black house:
"Mrs. Weasley pointed at the dusty glass-fronted cabinets standing on either side of the mantelpiece. They were crammed with an odd assortment of objects: a selection of rusty daggers, claws, a coiled snakeskin, a number of tarnished silver boxes inscribed with languages Harry could not understand and, least pleasant of all, an ornate crystal bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry was quite sure was blood."
I'd guess it's the bottle with blood and it's Voldemort's blood from the height of his powers. He'll get into the Black house via Kreacher or get it off of Mundungus, who would have stolen it.

Where will we go to find the Horcruxes? maybe the Burrow (see above), Godrick's Hollow, the Room of Requirement and/or Dumbledore's office, and invented new places (like the cave was, etc.)

Other odd little thoughts of mine:
Is Percy good or bad? Percy Weasley will ultimately be "good"--but he will still be a sycophantic, turkeyhead politician like Barty Crouch Sr. and Fudge, and he will never stop aspiring to Minister of Magic.

Random Predictions: During the last book, somebody will open a chocolate frog and Harry will be on a card now.
The mirror will be repaired and (very limited) contact will be established with Sirius.

There's a line in the sixth book that says something about Voldemort having killed enough people during his last reign of terror to have made an army of inferii. But wait! Weren't most of his victims from the good guys? So could Harry's own parents be "inferii-ed" and try to do harm to Harry? I hope not. Even if Voldemort is a great wizard and they were too, well, dead to fight him off, je m'en doute. So I predict some inferii switch-er-oo-ing.

The Snape section:
Snape had a thing for Lily Evans, of course. Snape's a half-blood (I love that, like Hitler, who was part Jewish, both Snape and Lord V. have this animosity toward that which they themselves are), and Voldemort will have found out through alternative sources. Legilimancy will save Harry's life in Book 7. Snape will die, perhaps saving Harry from the AK curse. Lucius Malfoy will die. Draco will die, but he will do something against Voldemort before dying. Peter Pettigrew will die saving Harry. Professor Umbridge will not die, more's the pity. Harry will "kill" LV only in that something LV does will backfire and do himself in (like the first time); justice will be served, and Harry won't have to be a killer per se.

I just hate Snape, whether or not he turns out to be on the side of good. I can never forgive him for being so mean and unfair to students, especially cruel words like "I don't see any difference" in Hermione's teeth when they grew absurdly large. Yes, I trust Dumbledore--but even Dumbledore admitted he made mistakes regarding what to tell Harry and when--so what is the big secret Snape and Dumbledore shared? I've thought that maybe Snape is Dumbledore's son, but that doesn't really work, and it takes us off in a whole soap opera direction Ms. Rowling doesn't. I think Snape told Voldemort where the Potters were originally, and they were killed. His confession to that effect doesn't exactly make me want to trust him--so why does Dumbledore? To redeem himself, he must have made an unbreakable vow with Dumbledore; I have no good ideas as to what BIG thing Snape did to assure Dumbledore (destroyed a horcrux or somehow contributed to saving Harry the night the Potters died?), and that's maybe the unresolved fact I'm most looking forward to from Book 7.

Of course, Jenny and Harry, and Ron and Hermione (finally!) will hook up; Neville will eventually teach Herbology, and Hermione will run the school after McGonagall retires.

Some of my favorite "I think J. K. Rowling is brilliant" moments:
When Ron says that the sneakoscope is broken and keeps going off--but of course he has Peter Pettigrew the Rat in his pocket at the time. What I'd love to see is something like yet a third tier there; my personal theory is that either Charlie or Bill has gone bad, and I'm taking a longshot and betting against Charlie; after all, he could have helped out with the dragons in the original heist attempt of the Philosopher's Stone from Gringotts.

LOVE, love, love lines like the one when Harry hears the mysterious voice the first time in The Chamber of Secrets: "and the voice was pure venom." Brilliant! She TOLD us it was a snake, but do we get it? No! Another example of her incredible restraint is when Olivander says "Curious" about Harry's wand and the Phoenix feather in Book 1, but we don't see its connection until Book 4 at the end.

And perhaps most brilliant of all, how on earth did Ms. Rowling accomplish the unbelievable murder that Snape used on Dumbledore--and there STILL be a bit of doubt as to whether or not Snape's "good" (I hear people wondering whether or not he was under orders; that's what Dumbledore was asking him to do, etc.). If I could write one/tenth as well as that, I would be proud. Good job, Ms. Rowling. [Of course, he will never be more than "good" in quotation marks to me (see above loathing I feel for the man).]

Thank you very much, Ms. Rowling, for such good books, and for helping my kids turn into avid readers.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reason #143

Reason #143 why you will never wonder whether or not I’m anorexic…

Macapuno ice cream. I found a terrific sari-sari store in Whittier, California that had Magnolia brand macapuno ice cream (that’s coconut to you un-Filipino types). Yes, the same brand of ice cream that was my favorite yea, those many years ago when I lived in the Philippines. And it’s still my favorite. (An available substitute is Mary’s Palateria coconut ice cream bar, for those of you with ties to Abilene, Texas, but it uses mature coconut, not the young stuff that comprises macapuno.)

Sin City

Katie and Krista are not likely to run away from home to seek their fortunes in Las Vegas any time soon. We swung by Las Vegas on our way home to Texas, and they were pretty appalled at the lewd and crude place. I was proud of them; even though they too were wowed by the flashy, glitzy lights of The Strip, they pronounced their visit “done” right away, especially when they saw a most appalling sign that read “Girl delivered within 20 minutes.” We stayed in a great room in the Egyptian-themed Luxor, in the neon pyramid on the 11th floor. Classy, eh? We couldn’t get out of that town quickly enough.


To hear some people tell it, zoos are horrible places, where captured animals must live out their foreshortened lives in cramped prisons, for the entertainment of the masses. Undoubtedly, there are many zoos such as that; personally, I‘m horrified by the cockfights that were so prevalent n the Philippines of my youth and by some tiny cages of abuse I’ve seen and heard about elsewhere.

And yet, there’s the well-run zoo, two of which come to mind. Krista works at the Abilene Zoo full-time all summer long; our zoo, which is very, very small, treats its animals very well indeed and refuses to “outgrow itself,” meaning it won’t acquire more animals than it can house and staff well. When, inexplicably, Abilene found itself the keepers of a couple of polar bears, they promptly traded them to a zoo in the North with a climate far more suited to the cold-loving bears (and acquired brown bears, which can tolerate the heat better and that can retreat any time they like to their air-conditioned quarters. And what about conservation? Here’s an interesting example: there are only a little more than a dozen Cohelan Box Turtles left in the wild. They were almost extinct. Little ol’ Abilene, Texas has seven of these rare turtles, earning that right because, under our keepers’ watchful care, they have procreated and flourished.

We went to the San Diego Zoo last week, spending two days at that marvelous facility. Our admission tickets (around $40 each for Ken and Krista, who went for two days and $33 each for Katie and me, who only went one day) went, as we were reminded repeatedly throughout the day, to massive conservation efforts as well as the upkeep and care of the zoo and animals themselves.

Today K4 visited Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay, a prison where humans have been incarcerated for years. We “enjoyed” seeing the place where Al Capone and The Birdman were imprisoned, but in case I may have given you a different impression, I don’t want to go to prison--ever. I’ll try to learn to live with my hypocrisy because I do not want to live in jail and yet I don’t mind if animals are—kindly, well, safely—kept in zoos. And I’m delighted that Krista has such a responsible job at the zoo, one that utilizes and expands her many talents.

The Truth is Out There...

…in San Diego. Katie was attacked by an alien creature from the sea that was worthy of the X-Files. Thanks to massive amounts of time learning at the TV-feet of Scully and Mulder, however, she was able to get away, with only the stench of squid ink upon her.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Seussical Christmas

Karen's mother, Wynell LeCroy aka Lala, has got to be one of the most fun grandmas ever! She always picks a theme for Christmas; this year was "A Dr. Seuss Christmas." Here's a photo of K4 in our Seussical garb!
The Cukrowski Family